LA TOUSSUIRE, France (VN) — Cadel Evans rode across the finish line of stage 11, past the frenzied press, beyond the steel barriers that line the finishing stretch and turned left, weaving through media trucks and wooden benches toward his hotel accommodations high in the French Alps. He got off his bike, handed it to a mechanic, climbed the slate stairs and was never seen again after the summit finish to La Toussuire.
The question is: will we see him again at this race? That is, has Evans got any shot at defending his Tour title?
“It’s getting more and more complicated,” said BMC director John Lelangue after Evans lost 1:26 to Sky’s overall leader, Bradley Wiggins on the second half of the 18km finish climb. “More than three minutes is complicated.”
On the queen stage of the 2012 Tour’s run through the Alps, when we expected to see dynamic racing, some riders being isolated, others attacking, the last person we expected to see sliding off the back — after charging off the front — of the group of the maillot jaune was the defending champion.
But slide he did. Evans came through eleventh on the day, 1:28 down to Chris Froome (Sky), and 1:26 to Wiggins and Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) to fall to fourth in the general classification.
“We were on the limit — at least on the last climb,” Lelangue said. “We had one bullet and we tried to use it pretty early. It was not bad on the [Col du] Glandon and [Col du] Croix de Fer but then we saw that [Cadel] was on the limit.”
Attacking with two major climbs still to go, with teammate Tejay van Garderen up the road — a rider who has been strong in the time trial but weak in the mountains in this Tour thus far — would seem a hearty undertaking, maybe even unwise.
Was it a mistake for Cadel to show his hand so early?
“No, not at all,” said BMC general manager Jim Ochowicz. It was a strong Tejay today, but a struggling Evans.
“That’s what you saw, that’s what I saw,” he said. “We wanted to be aggressive and we were. We had a little gap; we had to put some pressure on to see what we could do. I think the pressure worked because you saw at the end Froome had a little difficulty, too, and then he came back on this last climb [to La Toussuire]. Look, the race is not over yet; we’re still a week-plus away from Paris, we’ve got the mountains in the Pyrénées to still deal with so we’re optimistic that we’re going to go there and still be competitive.”
Questions abound after such a stage, the two biggest among them: is this Tour over for Cadel, and will the team switch from supporting Evans’ chances for yellow to chasing white with van Garderen?
With one swift answer, though, we have what we might expect.
“When he was dropped, we agreed that Tejay van Garderen would sacrifice himself, sacrifice the white jersey to stay with his leader and try to limit the gap,” Lelangue said. “We ended up losing time, but we keep fighting.”
Despite the disappearance of Evans, the team still holds its head high.
“Our performance up to this point has been good,” said Ochowicz. “Would we like it to be a little better? Yeah. But we’re not going to get depressed about that; we’re optimistic and we’re an aggressive team. We’ve been aggressive all year, in every race we go to, so the Tour’s not any different than anything else we do all year. We’ll continue to be aggressive; we’ll continue to try to win and we’re still… optimistic.”